Mystery Music March

I’m Like A Bird – Nelly Furtado

By now, given that I’m writing about 31 Songs (or pieces of music) some of you might have gathered that that I’ve read Nick Hornby’s book 31 songs – which is odd considering that it’s about the only book of his I have read (the other being High Fidelity). I’ve seen the film versions of About A Boy and Fever Pitch, but I don’t think that counts. It’s the gold standard of music writing, a perfect mix of autobiography and review, revealing the same passion for music that I like to think I have about films.

One of the best chapters (if you can call them that) is a passionate Morleyesque argument for pop music, with Nelly Furtado presented as the ideal example. Some would say that it’s an odd choice considering that Kylie Minogue was enjoying one of her revivals, the Sugababes were in another ascendancy and Furtado herself hadn’t really had a hit in a few years. But Hornby is making a point about how sophistic pop music can be, and I’m Like A Bird from her album Whoa Nelly is a wonderful choice.

Even in vocal terms its amazing, as Hornby notes, ‘There’s a bit […] about halfway through, where the voice is double-tracked on a phrase, and the effect […] is rich and fresh and addictive’. Furtado essentially becomes her own backing singer, the two or three different vocals weaving in and out of one another, creating an extraordinary range of sounds. It’s like the sound equivalent of that Kylie video where there are hundreds of them walking down a street, and for my money one of the best bits of singing ever.

Hornby suggests that time will tell if ‘Ms. Furtado’ will become any kind of an artist; on the basis of this performance I would have said she already was. Sadly fate intervened. Her next album, Folklore, despite having some really appealing tracks - my favourite is the acoustic Saturdays which just sounds like Nelly and back-up vocalist Jarvis Church goofing around over some guitar riffs – it didn’t sell well and got lost in down the back of the publicity sofa during the sale of her record company, Dreamworks, to Universal.

Rather than ploughing on with the same sound though, as we’ve seen, Furtado leapt booty first into a whole new genre alienating many of us fans of her earlier work. The problem with the hip hop and R&B material on her last album, Loose, mainly produced (as most things seem to be lately) by Timberland, is that it doesn’t sound authentic and worse is vocally far less sophisticated than we’re used to, certainly in comparison to I’m Like A Bird. Similar complaints were made when Jewel released her pop album 0304, but at least that retained her lyrical strength and to some extent her audience.

I wonder what Nick Hornby makes of Loose. Much as I struggle to like each new single released from it, every one feels like a compromise; Furtadof has described Maneater as "in your face and very fashionable, stylistic and of-the-moment” and though it’s laudable to give the kids what they want it doesn’t leave much room for originality. Loose to these ears sounds like every other lazy pop record. Whoa, Nelly still sounds like nothing else. There's simply no comparison between filler material like In God's Hands and the earlier Well, Well.

But since its been phenomenally successful I expect she’ll wisely stay on this path, her fourth album offering more of the same. That said, when Nelly performed at the Diana Concert last July her set consisted of Say It Right, Maneater and I’m Like A Bird! On the one hand this closed things out with her most popular song giving everyone the chance for a singsong, but also perhaps it was an indication that she’s not quite ready to abandon her past just yet.

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